Once shunned by growers for their persnickety culture, Dendrobium Nobiles are enjoying a rally rarely seen in orchid commerce. It all began with the quest for an alternative to Phalaenopsis that could be mass produced and distributed with little damage and have a good shelf life. Thus far, the public has responded by snapping up the plants like hot cakes.
At first glance, Dendrobium Nobiles or “Nobiles” for short, are an unlikely candidate to be embraced by anyone except the most hardened enthusiasts. Pronounced “NOB–il–EES”, this type of orchid is named for the wild species, D nobile, which produces long, dangly pseudobulbs that drop their leaves before blooming. Historically, the sight of yellowing foliage is generally an indication that something is wrong and makes growers run for the hills.
As if half dead looking plants aren’t enough of a deterrent, the culture of D nobile creates additional challenges. The species prefers increased light, little hydration and a sizable drop in temperature in the fall to assure a “good” blooming such that buds appear up and down the canes and not just at the top. Successful growers have learned to hang the plants high in the greenhouse, lower the thermostat, and forget them for a few months.
But all these growing rules are a turn off for most people who just want to water their collection once a week and keep their plants near a window. Few people want to pick up yellow leaves off the floor and modify their culture significantly in the hopes that a few buds might appear at some point in the future. The public wants orchids with similar care to phalaenopsis which need only minimal attention.
Low and behold, modern breeders have developed new strains of Dendrobium Nobiles that don’t come with all the baggage of the past. Gone are the culture rules of higher light, reduced water, and cool temperatures and yellow leaves are more the exception than the rule. Additionally, these new hybrids may bloom twice a year.
As an experiment, we tried a batch of 500 mature Nobiles of modern breeding, which, initially, looked and acted the same as the older varieties that we were familiar with. We grew the 500 plants outside during the summer in a shade house which received dappled sun and periodic rain supplemented by sprinklers. By the fall, it was time to bring the plants inside a heated greenhouse that is shared with other orchids.
The Nobiles got the same care as the other orchids in the greenhouse since the light levels are fixed throughout and the automatic watering system comes sprinklers on once a week. Around November, the first buds appeared as we might expect from this genus. But, much to our surprise, the plants were loaded with buds on multiple canes.
Several months later, when we thought our crop was finished blooming for the year, another, even heavier, round of buds appeared - on the old canes, the new canes, everywhere. We were astounded. Who ever heard of orchids that bloom twice in a three month period?
Needless to say, our new favorite orchid is the Dendrobium “Nobile” which we have proven, using a test of 500 sample plants, to be easy to grow and bloom. For the first time, there is a serious challenger to the ubiquitous Phalaenopsis which has become so widely grown and adored. As breeders continue to develop these breakthrough hybrids, we can expect hobbyists to enjoy the magnificent world of orchids on a grand scale.